The Finest Hours seems already prepared to be shoved in a lazy afternoon lineup on the Turner Classic Movies network.
Now, understand I don’t throw that in as a slight against the programmers of TCM, a fine group of people keeping classic film alive. Rather, it is a slight against this film, which seems perfectly content in aping a very classical style of filmmaking without a new idea in its head.
The Finest Hours relays to us a good, old-fashioned tale of American derring-do, the true story of one of the most daring rescues in the history of the Coast Guard. In 1952, a vicious nor’easter storm ripped across Massachusetts with enough force to rip an oil tanker, the SS Pendleton, in two. Led by Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), a group of Coast Guard men brave the dangerous storm to get the men on the tanker, which is led by Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck).
Meanwhile, Bernie has his best girl back home, Miriam (Holliday Grainger), and they’re getting married! But she’s concerned about having the life of a Coast Guard wife and is no fan of Bernie going off on this dangerous mission, trying everything to get his captain, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), to call Bernie back in.
If you’re starting to see the problem with this, congratulations, because you’re well ahead of the filmmakers. Much like recent sea-faring clunker In the Heart of the Sea, there’s not enough faith in the weight and excitement of the true story. Therefore, we feel the hand of the studio in the injection of a frame or in the romance to get us attached to the overall movie.
Largely, this film fails because the central romance The Finest Hours hinges on simply doesn’t work. Whatsoever. Miriam and Bernie do not have an ounce of chemistry, owing especially to a strangely dead-fish Chris Pine. But also an endlessly confused Grainger, whose classical Hollywood presence doesn’t seem to overcome the resentment that the filmmakers feel towards her character’s presence.
Miriam is written as an interloper in the narrative, a relentlessly clueless presence that seems to exist solely to get in the way and to not understand the mission of the men who are saving lives. At multiple points, it seems as though Miriam has never confronted the issues of her husband’s career. Are we really to believe that she’s marrying a man who she’s never gone through a hard time alongside? Are we to believe she’s so in love with the idea of marrying a man that she’s willing to marry a man with a career that she’s never actually confronted the reality of?
Had the film given us a more passionate romance or leads who have some spark together, then it would make more sense and would ring more true within the narrative. As is, Pine and Affleck have more chemistry, and to be frank, that would have been a more fun angle for the film. Something to avoid the relentless cliché of The Finest Hours.
Because oh lord, is the film full of clichés. It’s a film that feels like it’s simply checking the boxes that one would expect in a disaster rescue film, a cold recitation of what we have generally seen. And what’s particularly annoying about that is that we know director Craig Gillespie is capable of more. His earlier Lars and the Real Girl upended every expectation that we could have had for that film, turning something interesting, subversive and heartwarming.
It’s that cold recitation that feels hard to connect to. Which is a shame because this is a film that actually manages to hit a few solid notes in terms of craft.
Before I give the final bury to this film, let me give it some praise. On the sea, when the film is trying to rescue the sailors from the sinking tanker, it works remarkably well. Thrilling stunt choreography and strong effects make this worthwhile to catch whenever you see it’s next on TNT.
It will also be worth watching just to listen to the accents, because they are major league bad. Most are broad and uncomfortable on the ears Boston accents, sounding like the worst night of improv you’ve ever heard. But the icing on the cake is Eric Bana’s Southern accent as Daniel Cluff, calling to mind a community theater showing of A Streetcar Named Desire.
I point this out because it’s so indicative of this film’s flaws. It seems like someone should have caught these major story or craft or acting problems — but they didn’t. It leaves the film feeling waterlogged for the whole of its almost two hour running time, adrift without anything to make you remember you’re watching a film.